What is PU Leather

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What is PU Leather

PU leather, short for polyurethane leather, is an artificial leather made of synthetic material, i.e. thermoplastic polyurethane polymer, designed to resemble genuine leather. It is also known as a vegan-friendly alternative to genuine leather that provides a similar look and feel at a lower cost, but may not match the long-term quality and durability of the real thing.

However, it usually doesn't possess the same rich texture and may feel slightly plastic-like, due to which, some manufacturers tend to combine it with a thin layer of real leather in a product called bicast leather. PU material can have a more glossy appearance and is generally far less thicker than real leather, while on the other hand, real leather not only looks better, but it is also more durable, and is also full of character and will age beautifully.

Understanding the Ingredients of PU Leather

The ingredients of PU leather include a base material such as polyester, cotton, nylon, or rayon, which is then coated with a polyurethane finish to give it the characteristic look and feel of leather. This coating is what imparts the surface texture that mimics genuine leather, making PU leather a popular choice for those seeking a cruelty-free alternative to real leather. It has several key ingredients:

  1. Polyurethane (PU) coating: This is the main layer that gives PU leather its leather-like look and feel. It's a type of plastic resin that provides durability and water resistance.

  2. Base fabric: PU leather doesn't exist on its own, and the PU coating is applied to a backing fabric, typically made of woven or non-woven materials like polyester, cotton, or nylon. In some cases, PU leather might use recycled materials for this base layer.

  3. Additional additives: Depending on the desired properties of the final PU leather, manufacturers might include various additives. These can include:

  4. Pigments: To add color to the PU layer.

  5. Plasticizers: In some PU formulations, plasticizers might be used to enhance flexibility (although PU naturally is more flexible than PVC, another leather alternative).

  6. Stabilizers: To improve the PU's resistance to heat, light, or other environmental factors.

Note: The specific recipe for PU leather can vary depending on the manufacturer and the intended use of the final product, as in some cases, a layer of foam may be added to give the material a softer, more cushioned feel, or a layer of pigment may be added to give it a specific color.

Advantages and Benefits of PU Leather

PU leather, a popular choice for a wide range of applications, including clothing, shoes, furniture, and automotive upholstery, is considered as a versatile and practical material that offers many benefits over genuine leather and other materials.

  • Lower cost: PU leather is generally less expensive than genuine leather, making it a more affordable and budget-friendly option for many people who seek a leather-like material.

  • Durability: PU leather is more durable than genuine leather in some aspects, being less prone to cracking, tearing, and color fading over time, more resistant to water and stains than genuine leather, which makes it a good choice for items that will be used frequently or exposed to the elements.

  • Easy to clean: PU leather is generally low-maintenance, as unlike genuine leather, it doesn't require special cleaners or conditioners. Regular wiping with a damp cloth is often sufficient for cleaning PU leather, thus making it a good choice for items that may get dirty or stained.

  • Animal-friendly: PU leather is a vegan material, making it cruelty-free and environmentally friendly. It does not contain harmful substances like DMF, phthalates, lead, or formaldehyde, and is actually made from a base layer of split leather, which is a leather wallets, handbags, and other accessories due to its affordability, water resistance, and ability to mimic the look of genuine leather.

  • Shoes: PU leather is commonly used for shoes, particularly casual shoes and athletic footwear. It offers a balance of style, comfort, and water resistance at a lower price point than genuine leather.

  • Clothing: PU leather is used for leather jackets, pants, skirts, and even dresses. It can add a touch of edge or sophistication to an outfit.

  • Lower environmental impact: PU leather has a lower environmental impact than genuine leather, as it requires fewer resources and produces fewer emissions during the production process. Yet, the environmental footprint of PU leather can vary depending on the manufacturing practices and disposal methods.

  • UV Resistant: PU leather can be UV resistant for extended periods, ensuring color retention and longevity.

  • Fire Resistant: It can pass fire-resistant tests, making it a safe choice for automotive and furniture applications.

  • Hydrolysis Resistant: PU leather is resistant to hydrolysis, offering a longer lifespan without peeling or cracking issues.

  • Wide range of colors and finishes: PU leather is available in a wide range of colors and finishes, which allows manufacturers to create a variety of different looks and styles.

  • Breathability: While not as breathable as genuine leather, some PU leathers are formulated to allow for better airflow, which makes it comfortable to wear or sit on for extended periods of time.

  • Good flexibility: PU leather is flexible and can be easily shaped and molded, which makes it a good choice for items that require a specific fit or shape.

Uses of PU Leather

PU leather is a versatile material and a popular choice that is used in a wide range of applications, from fashion to furniture, due to its affordability, durability, and leather-like appearance. Here are some of its common uses:

PU Leather Uses in Fashion

  • Handbags and wallets: PU leather is a widely used material for leather wallets, handbags, and other accessories due to its affordability, water resistance, and ability to mimic the look of genuine leather.

  • Shoes: PU leather is commonly used for shoes, particularly casual shoes and athletic footwear. It offers a balance of style, comfort, and water resistance at a lower price point than genuine leather.

  • Clothing: PU leather is used for leather jackets, pants, skirts, and even dresses. It can add a touch of edge or sophistication to an outfit.

Furniture Applications of PU Leather

  • Upholstery: PU leather is a popular choice for upholstering sofas, chairs, ottomans, and other furniture pieces. It's easier to maintain than genuine leather and often more resistant to spills and stains.

  • Car interiors: PU leather is sometimes used in car interiors for seats, dashboards, and other components as it is fire-resistant and meets safety standards like FMVSS302. It can provide a luxurious feel at a lower cost than genuine leather.

    Other Uses

      • Phone cases and tech accessories: PU leather is commonly used for phone cases, laptop sleeves, and other tech accessories. It offers a stylish and protective covering.

      • Book covers and binders: PU leather can be used for book covers and binders, providing a durable and attractive finish.

      • Sporting goods: PU leather is used in some sporting goods, such as baseball leather gloves and basketballs.

      Besides these, PU leather can be combined with other materials to create composite products, for example, some phone cases might have a hard plastic shell wrapped in PU leather for a combination of protection and style.

      Is PU Leather Genuine Leather?

      No, PU leather, also known as polyurethane leather, is not genuine leather. It is a synthetic material made from a thermoplastic polymer which is designed to resemble genuine leather, coming from animal hides. PU has different properties and origins and these two materials, PU and genuine leather, have distinct differences in composition and properties, with PU leather being a man-made alternative designed to mimic the look and feel of real leather.

      Remember, genuine leather is a natural material that breathes better than PU leather as it allows for better air circulation and can help prevent moisture buildup, more durable than PU leather in the long run as it can develop a beautiful patina over time and with proper care, can last for many years. Examples of genuine leather include lambskin leather, nubuck leather, aniline leather, and deerskin leather, known for their quality and unique characteristics. Lambskin is soft and supple, nubuck has a velvety texture, aniline leather has a natural look, and deerskin is lightweight and flexible.

      On the other hand, PU leather is considered a type of faux leather, a broad term that encompasses various synthetic materials designed to mimic the look and feel of real leather as it is an artificial material made from polyurethane plastic to replicate the appearance of genuine leather.

      It may also be added here that while patent leather is genuine leather treated with a chemical varnish or layer to achieve a shiny appearance, PU leather is entirely artificial, made of polyurethane plastic. Patent leather retains leather as its base material, whereas PU leather is 100% plastic.

      Similarly, bonded leather is a material made from leather scraps and a bonding agent, a combination of leather remnants and synthetic materials, typically plastic, pressed into sheets for use in upholstery and leather goods. However, PU is entirely synthetic which offers advantages like water resistance and affordability.

      PU Leather vs Faux Leather: What's the Difference?

      PU leather and faux leather are both terms used for synthetic materials that mimic genuine leather. While they share many similarities, there are some key distinctions to consider:

      PU Leather (Polyurethane Leather)

      • Material: PU leather is specifically made with a polyurethane coating on a fabric backing (often polyester, cotton, or nylon).

      • Properties: PU leather can be soft and flexible, with good water resistance. However, it may not breathe as well as other faux leathers and can be prone to cracking or peeling, especially over time or with extreme temperatures.

      Faux Leather

      • Material: Faux leather is a broader term encompassing various materials that can replicate leather. This includes PU leather, but also other options like: PVC (polyvinyl chloride): A less breathable and plastickier option compared to PU leather.

      • Micro Polyester: A fabric option that can achieve a very leather-like look and feel, often more breathable than PU leather.

      • Natural Materials: Some innovative faux leathers are made from plant-based materials like pineapple or cork, offering a more sustainable and breathable alternative.

      To sum up, while both PU leather and faux leather are synthetic, leather-like materials, PU leather is a specific type of faux leather that more closely resembles the look and feel of genuine leather, but may be less durable and sustainable compared to other faux leather options.

      Is PU Leather a Vegan-Friendly Option?

      PU leather can be considered a vegan-friendly option, but with some important limitations and considerations. Consumers should be aware that not all PU leather is created equal and therefore, it's important to look for PU leather products that are clearly marked as 100% synthetic and made using environmentally-conscious methods. Choosing plant-based vegan leather alternatives may be an even more sustainable choice.

      • PU leather itself is 100% synthetic and does not contain any animal-derived materials, making it a vegan-friendly alternative to genuine leather, however, some types of PU leather, known as "bicast leather", do contain a layer of actual leather underneath the polyurethane coating. These would not be considered fully vegan.

      • The manufacturing process of PU leather can sometimes involve the use of chemicals and solvents that raise environmental concerns, even though the final product is animal-free.

      • There are also concerns that the plastic-based nature of PU leather makes it less environmentally sustainable compared to other vegan leather alternatives like those made from plant-based materials (e.g. pineapple, apple, mushroom).

      Does PU Leather Repel Water?

      PU leather is more resistant to water than genuine leather, but it is not completely waterproof. The polyurethane coating on PU leather provides a protective barrier that can help repel water and prevent it from soaking into the material, however, it is not entirely waterproof, and water can eventually seep into the material if left for an extended period of time.

      To protect PU leather from water damage, it is a good to treat it with a waterproofing spray or cream as it will help to enhance the water-resistant properties of the material and make it more resistant to water damage. It is also a good idea to avoid exposing PU leather to excessive moisture or water, as this can cause it to become damaged or stained.

      If PU leather has become wet, it is important to dry it as soon as possible to prevent water damage by blotting the excess water with a soft, dry cloth and allow the material to air dry at room temperature. Avoid using heat or direct sunlight to dry the leather, as this can cause it to become damaged or discolored.

      How Long Can You Expect PU Leather to Last?

      The lifespan of PU leather can vary quite a bit depending on several factors, including the quality of the material, manufacturing process, and usage, and can last anywhere from a few months to several years.

      • Quality of the PU leather: Higher quality PU leather with a thicker polyurethane coating and a strong fabric backing will naturally last longer than lower quality materials.

      • Amount of use: PU leather exposed to frequent wear and tear will understandably break down faster. For instance, a heavily used PU leather couch will likely need replacing sooner than an occasionally used jacket.

      • Care and maintenance: Proper cleaning and conditioning can help extend the lifespan of PU leather by preventing cracks and dryness.

      • Exposure to elements: PU leather can be more susceptible to cracking and fading with prolonged exposure to direct sunlight or extreme temperatures (both hot and cold).

      Here's a general idea of what to expect:

      Lower range: A few months to a year. This is more likely with low-quality PU leather or items exposed to harsh conditions and heavy use.

      Typical range: 2-5 years. With decent quality PU leather and moderate use, this is a reasonable expectation.  Following proper care practices can help you reach the higher end of this range.

      Upper range: Up to 10 years. This is less common but achievable with high-quality PU leather, excellent care, and limited use.

      Here are some specific estimates based on common PU leather items:

      • Shoes: 2 years

      • Purse: 1-2 years

      • Jacket: 2 years

      • Backpack: 1-2 years

      • Chair: 3-5 years

      • Couch: 3-5 years

      • Vehicle Interior: 5 years

      Remember: These are just estimates based on regular use and proper care. Factors such as exposure to sunlight, humidity, and rough handling can significantly impact the lifespan of PU leather products. Besides these, the quality of the PU leather itself can also influence its durability, with higher-quality PU leather potentially lasting longer than lower-quality alternatives.


      PU leather is a synthetic material made of polyurethane that serves as a vegan-friendly alternative to genuine leather, offering advantages such as affordability, durability, and easy maintenance, thus making it a popular choice for various products like handbags, shoes, furniture, and automotive upholstery. While PU leather can resemble real leather in appearance and texture, it may not match the long-term quality and durability of genuine leather. Understanding the differences between PU leather and other materials like patent leather and faux leather can help consumers make informed choices based on their preferences for sustainability, durability, and animal-friendly options.

      FAQs - What is PU Leather

      Is PU leather good quality?

      The quality of PU leather is mixed. On the positive side, it can be durable, affordable, and easy to maintain, providing a leather-like appearance. However, PU leather may not last as long as genuine leather and can be prone to issues like cracking, discoloration, and a plastic-like odor, especially with lower-quality products.

      Does PU leather peel easily?

      Yes, PU leather can peel easily compared to genuine leather because of its synthetic nature, with a polyurethane overlay on top of recycled leather layers, making it less durable and elastic than real leather. Over time and with frequent use, the polyurethane layer can start to break down, leading to the material becoming brittle and prone to peeling, especially in high-wear areas.

      Does PU mean fake leather?

      Yes, PU does mean fake leather because PU stands for polyurethane, a type of plastic that is used to create a material that looks and feels similar to genuine leather but is entirely synthetic. PU leather is a popular choice for clothing, shoes, furniture, and other accessories because it is more affordable, easier to care for, and often comes in a wider variety of colors and styles than real leather, but it does not last as long as real leather and can crack or peel over time.

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